In the heart of Abbotsford, British Columbia, lies a unique opportunity for high school students to kickstart their careers in heavy equipment operation. 

The Heavy Equipment Operator (HEO) program, offered as part of the careers program by Abbotsford School District, is supported by BC Road Builders member companies and equips up to 16 students annually with the skills and certifications necessary to find employment in the industry after graduation. With an impressive 90% of graduates offered job placements, the program has been a huge success in its 15 years of operation. Over 240 high school students have been trained as future operators. 

In early March of this year, the RoadShow trailer rolled up to the Yale Secondary campus in Abbotsford to spend a day as part of this program. The HEO students were about to start the hands-on practical portion of their program, and the RoadShow team wanted to smooth the transition from the theoretical portion of their learning to the practical. 

“There are huge advantages to using the simulators prior to using the actual equipment,” said Michael Pearson, District Vice Principal Career Programs for the Abbotsford School District. “It forms a bridge between the theoretical knowledge and helps them get a sense for what the real-life scenario is like, and makes them safer future operators.”

During the event, students were grouped into threes, allowing each student with about an hour on the simulators. Students eagerly seized the chance to immerse themselves in virtual scenarios and test out real-life situations. The RoadShow team was able to offer individualized instruction, giving each student a personalized experience and allowing them to explore the simulators’ capabilities. 

Instructors were particularly impressed by the realistic feel of the simulators. “One teacher said you can feel the load as you haul it up a hill,” Michael shared. “He said it was an amazing experience, and this is coming from a previous and highly experienced driver.”

The advantage of high-tech machinery, where participants are part of an immersive experience with motion bases and wraparound screens, gave a sense of realism that connected with the students. The event provided invaluable insights and a taste of what’s to come when they reach the practical opportunities of the program with heavy machinery, whether that’s driving a snow plow or operating an excavator.

“These RoadShow simulators, used in conjunction with recruitment—there’s nothing better to get kids excited about road building as a career pathway.”

The event was a perfect way to instill confidence in the students and lay a solid foundation for their future training. 

“These RoadShow simulators, used in conjunction with recruitment—there’s nothing better to get kids excited about road building as a career pathway,” Michael said. 

In addition to BC Road Builders member companies, a number of other organizations also support the HEO program. This includes an active role played by the ICBA as well as union and non-union civil construction companies, in engaging with students, sharing insights about their companies, and even extending recruitment opportunities. The recent RoadShow event not only provided valuable exposure but also ignited a newfound enthusiasm for a career in heavy equipment operation.

“I’d like to see a RoadShow trailer visit scheduled permanently into the program,” Michael said. “I’d like to have it on site for two full days, and allow the students to use it even more as a pre-training opportunity before the practical portion.”

Looking ahead, the impact of events like these extends far beyond the walls of Yale Secondary School. With a similar program underway in Kelowna and plans for expansion into other school districts, the RoadShow can serve as a powerful tool for recruitment and education. 

“We’re thrilled that students can engage with the road building industry during their educational years,” said Matt Pitcairn, vice president of the BC Road Builders. “One of the major goals of the RoadShow program is to bring more young people into the industry, and these initiatives pave the way for a new generation of skilled operators.”